Died July 20, 1989.
John Walker Sessums Jr. was born in Little Rock, Ark., in 1904. He moved with his family to Memphis, Tenn., where he graduated from high school in 1922. He graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a bachelor of science degree in 1926, and on June 2, 1926, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Engineering Reserve.
General Sessums was appointed a flying cadet in June 1928, and upon graduation from flying school a year later was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Reserve and assigned to active duty. He received his regular commission as a second lieutenant of Air Corps on Sept. 4, 1929. His first assignment was as a pilot and armament officer at Maxwell Field, Ala. He later served as aide-de-camp to Major General Preston Brown at Quarry Heights, Canal Zone.
In September 1934 General Sessums entered the Air Corps Engineering School and graduated the following June. He then was assigned to Wright Field, Ohio, where he served successively as project officer on aircraft engines and aircraft and on the staff of the commander. In May 1942 he was transferred to Army Air Forces headquarters at Washington, D.C., as a fighter project officer, and a month later became chief of the Aircraft Production Division at that headquarters.
General Sessums went overseas in January 1945 to become chief of plans for the XXII Tactical Air Command in Italy, with which he flew 22 combat missions. He was awarded the Bronze Star for operating behind enemy lines on the ground. In May 1945 he was appointed chief of staff of the XXII TAC, and was named chief of staff, 12th Air Force, Mediterranean Theater, in June 1945.
In August 1945 General Sessums was appointed assistant chief of Research and Development at the Air Materiel Command, Dayton, Ohio. He entered the National War College in August 1946. Upon graduation in June 1947 he was appointed vice deputy chief of Air Staff for Research and Development under General LeMay. In October 1947 he was named deputy director of Research and Development and chief of staff for Materiel in the Pentagon. In September 1949 he was designated deputy director of Research and Development at Air Materiel Command headquarters, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
In February 1951 General Sessums was appointed deputy commanding general of the Air Research and Development Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The following April he became director of operations of that command and in June moved with it to Baltimore, Md. He was named deputy for Development of the Air Research and Development Command in August 1951. In October 1952 General Sessums assumed command of the 13th Air Force in the Philippines. While serving in this capacity, an honorary doctor of science degree was conferred upon him by Adamson University on March 20, 1954. In September 1954 General Sessums was relieved from assignment as commander of the 13th Air Force in the Philippines and became vice commander of the Air Research and Development Command.
He is rated a command pilot, combat observer, and aircraft observer.
Like most successful men, the tall (6'1"), slender (170 pounds) the general combines his profession with his pleasures. Flying is his hobby. He's flown everything with wings from a 16 horsepower home-built monoplane to C-54 World War II aerial workhorses. He has owned and flown his personal light planes since 1935.
As for sports, the general shoots golf in the high 90s and plays a passable game of tennis. An expert with rod and reel and gun, he favors sailfish and hunts quail and pheasant.
A mechanically minded man, the general's diversions all deal with engineering. He has built any number of internal combustion engines, small planes, and he can and does repair his own private plane which he calls "both diversion and pleasure."
Friends of the general like to relate the story of an order he'd given for lumber when he built his twin-hull 18-foot boat. After handing over a long list to the lumber supply house - with exact thickness and lengths spelled out - not even a two-foot length of lumber was left when the general finally completed construction. The way I look at it," one acquaintance said, "the general just hates waste. I'm taking for granted the fact he's a mechanical genius.
At one time, he flew a 16 horsepower, home-built, mid-wing conventional monoplane that featured a one-gallon fuel tank. The aircraft was made from parts of an outboard motor.
On 10 separate occasions, the general flew a 100-horsepower home-built plane. On each occasion he was forced to make a dead-stick landing.
Assumes normal and average civic duties, but press of work restricts considerably his activities in this area. He's a practicing Methodist.
DECORATIONS AND MEDALS
Legion of Merit (twice)
Bronze Star Medal
Army Commendation Ribbon
Order of the British Empire (Degree of Commander)
Order of the Crown of Thailand (Second Class)
Philippine Legion of Honor
OPINIONS, TASTES AND EVALUATIONS
Like all top-flight military men who wear the mantle of leadership with confidence, the general is prompt to praise, slow to censure.
No particular preference for fancy foods but categorizes in the male preference for steaks and chops. Affects conservative ties and likes the equally conservative blues and grays when in mufti.
Prefers technical and scientific journals to popular magazines. Taste in music and art are down to earth.
Acquaintances report him modest but exacting in his demands of subordinates. When he hands out assignments, he never interferes nor "birddogs" the projects. He concerns himself with accuracy and facts.
During the '45 spring drive by the allies, General Sessums was assigned the task of figuring out where planes might land in the Po Valley sector. On numerous occasions, he found himself entirely within enemy territory. While on the assignment, his only weapon was a sidearm.
"Conscientious in everything he does - that about describes the man," one colonel commented.
"He's undoubtedly the most safety-conscious pilot I've known," a fellow pilot-major said.